Protests on college campuses are nothing new. They are a rite of passage for gullible young minds attracted to emotionally-exciting slogans, the simplistic solutions that persons not yet educated but convinced of their own brilliance find plausible, and a chance to posture at being morally superior to their society. Campus protests start to make news, however, when a thinly-disguised anti-Semitic hate-group begins to grow into a nationwide force, turning campuses into hotbeds of Jew-baiting rhetoric that has not been considered acceptable in America within living memory. That the group, which is recruiting U.S. college students by the thousands, aligns itself with known Moslem terrorists is alarming indeed.
Students for Justice in Palestine sprouted on the University of California, Berkeley campus last year. Since then, SJP cells have spread to some 25 major campuses throughout the country, including Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Georgetown, and the universities of Michigan and Maryland.
If it was SJP’s tactic to ignite grassroots support nationwide, it is concentrating its growth efforts in the right place — college campuses. If any group wanted to whip up a frenzy of protest for its cause, campuses filled with young, impressionable activists are the perfect, perhaps only, venue in which to do it. Real people have jobs, lives and families, which tend to give them a somewhat more responsible view of the world. College students yearn for serious commitments in their responsibility-free lives, and often find them in extremist politics.
They are doing it in a calculated way. The SJP calls Israel "this generation’s South Africa," as if every generation were entitled to a colorful (but safely foreign) cause to prove its moral superiority with. The Palestinians are today’s South African blacks. These absurd accusations pack a punch with college students on liberal campuses, who are primed and ready to protest anything from U.S. foreign policy to curfews in the dormitories.
The SJP says it’s up to today’s college students to help put an end to the "Apartheid State of Israel" by demanding that their colleges and universities divest from companies that do business there. The SJP proclaims that it intends do for the Palestinians what the anti-apartheid campaign did for the blacks in South Africa. (This begs the question whether the end of apartheid was due to American protestors or to internal South African politics and the fall of communism.) Specifically, the group aims to create public sympathy in the U.S. and around the world for the Palestinians, resulting in economic sanctions against Israel, eventually toppling its "apartheid" regime. SJP is targeting Starbucks, the eternal favorite for student protests of all kinds, plus General Electric, Disney and scores of other companies, using protests on college campuses to pressure these companies.
What’s troubling about SJP isn’t its flair for dramatic protests, nor is it the group’s opposition to Israel — everyone is entitled to voice his or her own ridiculous opinion in this country. What’s troubling is that the SJP is attracting kids with inflammatory words like "apartheid," and "repression," when they should be saying, "terrorist" and "suicide bomber." And judging from the hatred that is being shouted on campuses nationwide on behalf of this cause, maybe they should throw in "Nazi" while they are at it. Many official Arab newspapers already do.
College students who are recruited into this organization need to know, first and foremost, that they are cozying up to a group with proven ties to terrorism and the Islamic jihad against Israel, America, and the rest of the non-Moslem world. Secondly, they need to open their eyes to realize that the SJP’s tactics are moving well beyond benign, non-violent protests of U.S. foreign policy. The group is turning our campuses into forums for anti-Semitism.
Things are getting ugly. Jewish students are being harassed when they come out of campus synagogues. Anti-Semitic graffiti is appearing on campus buildings. The SJP is starting to talk about Palestinians living in Israeli-sponsored "concentration camps." In one especially ugly incident after a rally at San Francisco State University, a small group of Jewish students was surrounded by a much larger group of Palestinian supporters who shouted, "Too bad Hitler didn’t finish the job," and other feverish, hate-filled sentiments that seem like a bad dream from the 1930’s, or perhaps from a state-sponsored demonstration in the capital of some Arab thugocracy eagerly diverting its people’s anger away from the repressive regime at home to problems abroad.
On April 9, Holocaust Remembrance Day, pro-Palestinian groups at SFSU protested Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. Then the organizers circulated posters of Jews eating Christian babies. America has seen plenty of nuttiness come out of San Francisco; the nuttiness is taking a bitter, nasty turn that is making it no longer funny.
Further troubling is the company the SJP is keeping, at Berkeley and elsewhere. One of the founders of the Berkeley SJP is Snehal Shingavi, a Berkeley graduate-student instructor who, among other things, gained a fair amount notoriety last year for teaching "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance." Ostensibly a look at Palestinian poets, this course is a loosely-veiled exercise in Palestinian propaganda offered through the university’s English department. (Funny how it’s always the English Department, rather than, say, Political Science, that always has the most obnoxious things to say about politics.) Shingavi described the course as "dealing with Israel’s brutal oppression of Palestine since 1948," and, in the course catalog, encouraged conservative students to seek other options. Shingavi took a good deal of public heat for that mistake — not so much for the course itself, but for his clumsy attempt to bar conservative students from it — until he finally withdrew that request from the course catalog.
It is no surprise that a vocal supporter of the Palestinians would emerge to lead a campus group supporting his pet cause. What’s more alarming are the known terrorists who are also behind SJP. SJP’s national conference at the University of Michigan last month was sponsored by the Islamic Association for Palestine, a group that raises money for the families of suicide bombers, thereby encouraging the practice. The conference also featured keynote speaker Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian is a professor at the University of South Florida, or was. The university is trying to fire Al-Arian because of his alleged terrorist ties. He has been placed on paid leave while the university seeks a court ruling on whether it can fire the tenured professor without violating his Constitutional rights. Al-Arian raised money for terrorist groups, brought terrorists into the U.S. and founded organizations that support terrorism, the suit alleges. The university wants him gone, and he’s not going peacefully. The case is currently in federal court. (One cannot help noticing that there is no Moslem or Arab nation where his legal rights would be similarly protected.)
To be fair, not every outspoken proponent of SJP is a known terrorist. Gilles Corcos, UC professor emeritus and Holocaust survivor has spoken on behalf of the group, as has Dr. Jeff Halper, a professor of anthropology at Ben Gurion University in Israel and the coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Halper is also editor of the critical Israeli-Palestinian magazine News From Within, published by the Alternative Information Center. Israel has a fifth column inside it just like America.
The analogy to South Africa has reached back to that country itself. Noted anti-apartheid activists like Na'eem Jeenah of the Palestine Solidarity Committee in South Africa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu compare Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with South African apartheid policies toward blacks.
Many of the SJP’s most dramatic protests have taken place on the Berkeley campus. When Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister of Israel, SJP created a mock checkpoint on the Berkeley campus, designed to mimic Israeli checkpoints. Some 75 people blocked the main entrance to campus in an effort to show students what it’s like to live as a Palestinian in Israel. The group blocked traffic for 100 yards in both directions, chanting, "This is what a checkpoint looks like" and "Take a stand and join us." It worked. The group doubled in size after that protest. In March 2001, students created a mock refugee camp using chicken wire and large pictures of Palestinians in refugee camps.
Last April 9, the Berkeley SJP moved beyond campus theatrics and into the realm of serious civil disobedience. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, members of Students for Justice in Palestine held a rally on campus, attracting approximately 1,200 people. They marched through the Berkeley campus and staged a sit-in at Wheeler Hall. The group demanded that the university divest from companies that do business in Israel. This is no small demand — some $6.4 billion in investments is at stake — and it has had no small amount of fallout. Police arrested 79 people that day, 41 of them students. Thirty-two of those students are still awaiting possible prosecution.
Pro-Palestinian protests erupted on several campuses that same day, involving nearly 10,000 students at Ohio State, the University of Minnesota, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and Carnegie Mellon University, in addition to the ugly incident on the SFSU campus. At Yale, a fierce debate is erupting between the newly-formed SJP and established Jewish groups on campus. In November, Yale’s SJP set up a mock Israeli checkpoint on campus, harassing students with cardboard rifles. Yale’s Friends of Israel responded to the mock checkpoint by holding a vigil for victims of a recent Palestinian attack on a kibbutz. Both sides are flooding Yale’s campus newspapers with opinion pieces and letters to the editor. It’s a fiery, passionate debate that has no signs of slowing down.
In their literature, SJP demands an immediate end to the current Israeli military occupation, an immediate cessation of all U.S. material and political support to Israel, including divestment of college and university funds from Israeli corporations and corporations that do business with Israel, and the creation of a single secular democratic state with equal rights for all its citizens. The SJP further demands the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. They demand the implementation of the right of return and the repatriation of all Palestinians.
What their literature doesn’t say is, the demands of the SJP call for nothing less than the abolition of the state of Israel. Zionism, in the view of the SJP, is singled out among all the nationalisms on earth as essentially racist. The only way to bring a lasting peace to the region, they say, is to eliminate Israel. Think about that.
Furthermore, equating South Africa’s regime of apartheid to Israel’s decades-long, bloody struggle for survival is absurd. The SJP ignores incidentals like Palestinian suicide bombers (except when they are participating in fund raisers for the families of such martyrs), and years of peace talks demonstrating Israel’s willingness to find a way to end this struggle. The SJP’s demands do not take into account the peace accords signed by, for one, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat who was assassinated by Islamic radicals for trying to make peace with the Jews.
Supporters of this group need to do their research. This is a dangerous and dishonest organization taking advantage of the ignorance of America’s college youth to promote a deadly agenda. We saw the same thing in the 60’s and should know better by now, even if college kids born in 1982 do not.